The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is slowly recovering from a year that has seen a decrease in attendance of more than 670,000 people so far as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated event cancellations.
As of Oct. 9, the coliseum had lost nearly 300 events scheduled for 2020, Randy Brown, executive vice president and general manager for the Coliseum, told the Allen County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 16.
That news followed an Oct. 14 announcement by the NCCA that Manchester University will continue to host the Division III Men’s Basketball Final Four at the venue through 2026, which is expected to generate more than $2.6 million in revenue for Fort Wayne between 2023 and 2026. Manchester and its partners, the coliseum and Visit Fort Wayne, had previously been selected to host the tournament games through 2022.
“It’s just a good team win here at a time where we needed one,” Brown said.
The Final Four is currently on track to return in spring 2021.
The coliseum will look for local sports teams to inject much-needed revenue back into the venue as well. The Fort Wayne Komets, in conjunction with the ECHL, announced Oct. 9 the team will start its season Jan. 15, following a delay to the start of the 2020-21 season.
The Fort Wayne Mad Ants schedule has yet to be announced, after the remainder of the NBA G League’s 2019-20 season was canceled in March. G League games typically begin a few weeks after the start of the NBA season. Brown said that could be as early as January or as late as March.
Purdue Fort Wayne’s men’s basketball team played 10 of its home games at the coliseum last season, from November to March. Brown said the Mastodons could be poised to play four games at the coliseum in December, though the majority of their home games will be played on the school’s campus.
The coliseum has hosted a couple of outdoor concerts since the slew of event cancellations took hold, including Country Night at the Drive-in on Sept. 25 and the Drive-In Theater Tour featuring Casting Crowns on Sept. 29.
“We are now starting to do some smaller consumer shows,” Brown said. “We’ve just recently done the Lucky Duck Consignment Sale, the gun and knife show, and we had our largest banquet to date the other night.”
The 2020 Rescue Mission Fall Banquet, which was hosted Oct. 13 in the coliseum’s conference center, drew just under 600 people.
The venue will look to retain other large winter events, including the All American Outdoor Expo, Fort Wayne Farm Show, Fort Wayne RV and Camping Show, and Fort Wayne Boat Show, among others.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep those other large events on the calendar — working hand in hand with the Farm Show, talking about putting heavy equipment outside, talking about putting some of the booths on the arena floor to spread people out,” Brown said. “When you have an event that has 1,500 exhibitors, we have to find new ways of doing things — potentially one-way aisles, how we spread things out, having side drapes to help with that social distancing.”
“Disney On Ice” is also tentatively scheduled to return to the coliseum for dates in February, March and April.
“Hopefully, we’ll be putting that event on sale in the next few weeks,” Brown said.
“… We’re fortunate that we have space, in terms of social distancing, working hand in hand, closely, with the board of health, and they have been very accommodating — very helpful — to us.”
Approximately 400 coliseum employees are still furloughed as a result of the pandemic. The majority of those individuals are part-time workers.
“We feel for them, and (we’re) concerned for their wellbeing, their families,” Brown said. “It’s a message we certainly want them to know — that we care.”
The coliseum is currently working to obtain a certification through the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, in order to demonstrate to event hosts that the venue is implementing best practices in cleaning and guest safety. Brown said that process will hopefully be completed by the end of the year.
“We’re just letting these shows know that your business is important,” Brown said. “We’ll do everything we can within our power to create the right, safe environment where we can host these events.”
In September, Allen County Council approved moving $3.5 million out of the general fund to offset the coliseum’s lack of revenue. That followed another nearly $3.6 million granted from council in June.